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‘ If you deplore they “ve seen you” as evil ‘: Accra’s religious noise trouble

One-man religions armed with loudspeakers proliferate in Ghanas fast-growing capital. But as the city gets noisier, tenants are fighting back

” If you flout the laws of God, the serpent will pierce you. Satan will deplete you ,” outcries Apostle Michael Sarfo at a major superhighway intersection in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He urges for five hours every weekday morning, with a stack of loudspeakers amplifying his evangelism. Passersby stop to receive prayers and blessings, some tossing their money offerings from displacing cars.

In Accra, you are never far from religious speeches. Harmonizing to one estimate, there are approximately 10 religions per sq km, and open-air preaching, whether on modes of public transport, in bus terminals or at street intersections, is commonplace.

The population of Greater Accra was about 4 million in 2010, but the city’s rapid growth means that number is expected to reach nearly 10 million by 2037. And as local populations increases and the city gets noisier, inhabitants are becoming more willing to fight back- developing in a rise in noise complaints.

Sarfo has been preaching at this intersection with his speaker system for the past four years. He says he used to be a lot louder but lowered his heights after parties complained. He conceives those who complain about the noise are not true Christians.

Apostle
Apostle Michael Sarfo, who situates up at a busy intersection every weekday morning with other pastors and their loudspeakers to spread the truth. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Not everybody will like what we are doing here- not all know Christ ,” he says.” That is why we are here .”

While he considers his roadside preaching a church, he says he eventually wants to take it indoors into his own space.

According to the city’s Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), about 70% of interference complaints are about churches. Sovereignties and inhabitants across Accra point to what are known locally as” one-man churches”- small-scale, independent evangelical faiths with no organizational structures- as the biggest offenders. They spring up in backyards, unfinished houses, under trees and on foyers. And despite their small-scale flocks, they often use loudspeakers and musical instruments during worship.

Noise annoys

For Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation unit at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, dealing with noise disorders is taking over her daily work in her small, concrete power in the outskirts of Accra.

” Every single date somebody is complaining about noise ,” says Gbana. By her imagine, about 65% of her day is invested dealing with noise grumbles. Most frequently the complaints are about a church.

Although Gbana’s department attempts to intervene or mediate wherever possible, cases often end up in tribunal. One such speciman involves a church that had apparently been set up inside a family home in a new development on the city’s outskirts.

The pastor says his church was simply a companionship of his family members and firebrands neighbours’ complaints as “unjustifiable” and an infringement of his right to practise his religion. Lambert Kwara, prosecutor for the neighbourhood assemble, says there has been an increase in noise complaint subjects over the past six years. On the day he bickers this particular complaint, he has two others to prosecute.

Gbana is often on the frontline in these cases. She says things can quickly turn ugly when she provides notices.

Members
Members of the Tesano Baptist church at a Sunday service. The church invests in new material and adapted its interior design to reduce noise levels. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” Some of the pastors will not take it kindly, some will insult ,” Gbana says. Branding complainants “witches” or “wizards” is a common tactic. In add-on, it is not rare for Gbana to face pressure to dismiss actions from well-connected beings in the community.

But Gbana is resolute that peace( and quiet) must reign- although she has acknowledged that organisations need to be streamlined and agencies need to work with each other better to be truly effective.

One yearly respite from the racket comes during the month-long ban on noise-making imposed by chiefs in the lead-up to the Homowo harvest festival, when it is common for local publication vigilantes to confiscate loudspeakers of recalcitrant noise-makers.

But aside from this annual break, the territory of interference in Accra is a public health concern, feigning editions wandering from increased stress stages to hearing loss, says Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, an ecological and public health research scientist at the University of Ghana.

She spots people are not aware of bylaws on noise-making, or are put off grumbling because of horrors it will affect their reputation or standing in the community.

” You may end up being branded as having an evil influence ,” Yirenya-Tawiah says.

Being labelled as evil or a witch or hotshot can be a serious insult, says Dr Cyril Fayose, general secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana.” Witchcraft accusations are very serious matters in Africa ,” he says,” and sometimes if you are seen as make sorcery you are eligible even punished appropriately by culture .”

In August last year, religious leaders, local and national government officials formed a taskforce to combat to Accra’s increasing noise levels, focused on education and enforcement.

Gifty
Gifty Gbana, zonal head of the environmental health and sanitation unit at La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Accra. Photograph: Stacey Knott

” People have become very interested and aware of the danger that interference constitutes, so now the complaints are coming ,” says John Tettey, a taskforce member and head of the education department at the EPA.

Samuel Teye Doku was at the August taskforce meeting representing independent churches. He personally visits religions within his organisation to ensure they don’t clear excess racket.” The Bible taught us noise-making- God says we should use instruments ,” he says,” but that doesn’t return us the opportunity to misuse God’s work .”

There are some faiths taking preemptive measurements, such as the Tesano Baptist church, which has invested over the years in new gear and changed its interior design in order to reduce noise levels. Members of the congregation had complained about too-loud works, says head Kenneth Palme.” Loud sound doesn’t necessarily mean good tone ,” he says.

When churches do not regulate their noise, going to court can take a lot of period and try due to Ghana’s notoriously slow legal processes. It took 14 years of tenacity and” unspeakable tendernes and woe” for two tenants in the outskirts of Accra to be awarded damages in a high court ruling against two loud neighbouring churches.

The January 2019 ruling to be laid down a epic of complaints, letters, sees and failed territory courtroom act, as well as a shameles re-zoning by local authorities of one of the church owneds to allow it to continue to hold services despite the complaints.

The ruling discovered both churches in breach of building rules and regulations. They were penalty for causing a nuisance, and the municipal chief executive was fined” for reckless ignore” of the two residents’ rights to” quiet pleasure of their properties “.

‘My panic is my baby will have a hearing problem’

Such bureaucracy was what stopped Isaac from following through on his grievances to local authorities- about a clergyman who appears intent on impeding on with his preaching regardless of the complaints.

The noise obligates Isaac feel like a bad papa and partner, he says in the living room of the small one-bedroom flat he rents in a family house in Madina.

When he moved here, in mid-2 016, he saw no problem with the small prayer service held by his neighbour. Nonetheless, since then, he says his neighbour has started bracing very loud church services, screaming into a microphone in the nights along with 10 worshippers.

Isaac only began to complain when his son was born in early 2018.

” My anxiety is that my newborn will have a hearing problem in the future …[ but] when you grumble they see you as evil ,” says Isaac, who is himself a Christian.

After reporting the matter to the EPA, he gave up grumbling, feeling his concern was being legislated between local and national agencies. With his tenancy lease ending in April, he and his family are counting down the weeks until they move out.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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